Professor İbrahim Özdemir is a professor of philosophy at Uskudar University, Istanbul, Turkey. His major is environmental ethics and environmental philosophy.

While the EU has repeatedly promised to do ‘something’ to stop deforestation, the result has been largely ineffective or incoherent. In contrast, the British Government’s proposed anti-deforestation law could set a global precedent for how to combine trade, agriculture, and profit in creating a better outcome for all.

The proposed law will prohibit British businesses from using commodities not grown in accordance with local laws. Businesses will be required to apply strict supply chain due diligence processes to prove compliance. Britain’s new law is one that reinforces why green business matters – an ethical imperative owed to future generations.

The UK approach, therefore, out-competes the EU on multiple fronts and sets a global precedent.  

For instance, the EU has been bizarrely obsessed with singling out palm oil, despite beef being the world’s foremost driver of deforestation-linked carbon emissions. A recent study attributes 34 per cent of deforestation-linked carbon emissions to beef, compared to 14 per cent for palm oil.

While rushing through legislation to ban palm oil for biofuels, the EU has strangely ignored sustainability certification for its own oilseed crops, such as rapeseed, which make up some 80 per cent of all vegetable oils in European biofuels. In 2012, German researchers concluded that European rapeseed does not meet the EU’s own sustainability standards for biofuels!

This June, policymakers in Brussels began acknowledging the mounting scientific evidence that boycotting palm oil would actually worsen deforestation. Because palm oil is so ubiquitous across different products, a simple ban will likely switch demand to less efficient oilseed crops which use up much more land.

Finally facing up to this science was a positive development, prompting EU policymakers to contemplate the need for broader regulations. Indeed, this need to have current scientific data inform policy has also recently been reiterated across the Atlantic by 81 American (and pro-Biden) Nobel Laureates in the Sciences, declaring “at no time in our nation’s history has there been a greater need for our leaders to appreciate the value of science in formulating public policy.” It is a message that could just as well be directed at the EU.

Unfortunately, discussions in the European Parliament show that Brussels also has no clue how to convince producer countries to come on board, with certification standards devised by EU bureaucrats with practically no understanding of developing countries.

In short, Brussel’s piecemeal approach has automatically alienated palm oil producers in Asia, while greenlighting imports of beef and soy from illegally-deforested zones and insulating the EU’s own oilseeds from environmental scrutiny.

The proposed new British law, however, offers an ingenious way out of the mess created by the EU. By fining companies selling products in the UK which are unable to prove supply chain compliance with local laws, they will be incentivised to source their products sustainably. And that in turn, for the first time, will incentivise local producers to comply with laws currently being flouted.

Take Amazon deforestation, for instance, 90 per cent of which is actually illegal according to local laws. It is the inability of consumer nations to ensure the enforcement of these laws that allows the largest single case of deforestation in the world to accelerate. It also represents the single biggest loophole enabling foreign businesses to profit from deforestation.  

Unlike the EU’s failed approach, the UK is not proposing boycott as its primary strategy, nor is it singling out one commodity. Instead, it is explicitly proposing a way of regulating all relevant commodities implicated in deforestation, including beef, cocoa, rubber and soy. This avoid the risk that focusing on only one culprit could displace problems onto other culprits.

The British approach also closes the gap between producer and consumer nations, making them partners in a process aimed squarely at generating sustainable production. This is a huge step forward in cooperative approaches to combating climate change. It also cuts straight to the chase by incentivising truly sustainable production through a win-win partnership strategy, designed to make producers want to become sustainable in order to access markets.

Malaysia, for instance, is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, but is also home to the world’s first mandatory national oil palm certification scheme, MSPO. As of last July, 96.4 per cent of Malaysia’s palm oil estates are certified under MSPO, which has recently been praised by The Ecologist for dramatically reducing rates of deforestation over the last three years.

This is the same scheme that EU policymakers falsely dismissed in June as inadequate on the grounds that “only a third” of the palm oil was certified, an inaccurate claim based on years-old data. Thankfully, the proposed anti-deforestation law can set a global precedent that makes it difficult for the EU to pursue its incoherent approach unilaterally.

The strategy of getting consumer nations to work in alignment with producer nations to ensure local deforestation laws are not breached represents an unprecedented milestone. If the UK achieves it, this will indeed be a world-leading environment law.